Dear Young Kashmiris,
I was meaning to write you this letter for some time now, I have things to share, words to tell you. I understand the life-world you live now, I have passed it, not long time ago. The things I want to share are the things I wish someone had shared with me when I was as young as you. But that is past now. And you are the future.
Let me start with few dry statistics, so that you are familiar with the larger picture. You belong to the most educated generation in the modern history of Kashmir. You may ask what does that mean. Well, imagine Kashmir in the 1920s or 1930s, and imagine your father’s-father’s-father or your mother’s-mother’s-mother. What was their generation doing when they were as young as you? If you read our history you will know that, in 1911, there were hardly 5 high schools and around 172 primary schools in Kashmir, and less than 7 percent population was able to read or write. Out of 1000 people only 35 were literate during the 1930s. We had 4 million population (40 lac) then and yet only 19,455 people knew English. Most of the people were poor, they tilled land, and very few earned their livelihood through trade or government employment.
Today, most of you are in a far better position as compared to your father’s-father’s-father or your mother’s-mother’s-mother. In contrast to 5 high schools in 1911, we have over 800 high schools today, while around 9 lac students are enrolled in 11,000 government-run schools, over half a million of you (5.7 lac) are also studying in 2600 private schools—the current overall literacy rate in Kashmir is 63 percent. And you can see that while a lot of men and women still work in the agricultural sector, thousands of them also serve in the public service—in 2016, the total population of government employees in Jammu and Kashmir was 4.8 lac. You have around 40 colleges now, and you have even options to go outside of Kashmir to pursue your studies, something that yours—and mine—grand grandfather or grand grandmother could have never imagined.
I am sure you already knew much of what I just outlined, but sometimes it is important that we are aware of our privileges so that we may not take things for granted.
When I say young Kashmiris I have people in mind who must be currently in their 8th standard and above, and between ages 15 and 20. This is the formative period of one’s life i.e., it is during this age when a person starts to think about “the serious stuff,” and seeks answers. No matter how hard we try to seclude you in the world of fairy tales and keep you away from the true realties of the world this stage is inevitable. And it has arrived. You will begin to, or might have already begun to, ask yourselves questions like “How this world was created?” “Why are countries fighting wars?” “Why different people have different cultures?”, or, closer home, “Why were people protesting on streets in 2016?” All this is “the serious stuff” I am talking about, and I am sure there must be many more questions nagging your mind at this stage now, and surely not all will get satisfactory answers in your lifetime.
While you will get answers for your queries gradually, some things you will discover through experience and some by reading. Though by reading a person can also gain experience, for experience, however, you don’t need to read. Your father’s-father’s-father might not have had education but he could still be an expert in his work. But, he lived in a different era and you live in the age where without reading you end up losing many opportunities to realize your potentials. So: read, read, and read.
But what to read, you may ask. Well, let me give you a small list of readings which will help you and may resolve the puzzles in your mind. We can start with history, because you may want to know how the world civilization came about—one of the questions in the bundle of “the serious stuff.”
In 1935, Ernst Gombrich, a 26-year-old man from Vienna, wanted to write about the world history for young kids. He shared the idea with a publisher named Walter Neurath who liked it and asked him to finish the book within six weeks. A complete history book within just six weeks, that is around 42 days! A monumental task. But Gombrich took the challenge and finished the book on time. He read books in mornings and afternoons at his home and libraries, and set a tight schedule for writing: one chapter a day, every evening. Ultimately, the book came out in 1936 in German titled Eine kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser. Gombrich wanted to translate the book into English, so that it could reach wider audience around the world. But, he couldn’t finish the translation as he died in 2001 in his London home. However, the English version of the book was published four years later after Ernst Gombrich’s granddaughter Leonie Gombrich and his assistant Caroline Mustill finished the translation work. And the book, titled A Little History of the World, came out in 2005, and it became the bestselling book on world history for young and adult readers alike.
What could you expect from the book? In forty chapter, you will hear Gombrich’s story in a simple, accessible, and entertaining language. The book is not filled with dates which many people find boring, but it engages you in the story of our human civilisation. It covers our progress from the Caves to Machines to Wars to Art and Sciences. It also discusses the world religions, like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. It shows us how much we achieved and how much we also lost in this path of progress, how high we went in our achievement and how we failed due to our imperfection. This is the book, dear young Kashmiris, you should read, so that you can take in the grand sweep of human history, and develop, at this early but formative stage of your life, a healthy spirit of openness to ideas. Inshallah, I will return with another letter. Till then enjoy A Little History of the World.
First published in Greater Kashmir on 1 Jan 2018: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/letter-to-young-kashmiris/270734.html